Parish Priest escapes bombing of Iraqi Church

BY JOHN PONTIFEX
16/8/2011

Another church in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk has been bombed bringing the tally to three within less than two weeks.

No one was hurt in the explosion yesterday at St Ephrem’s Syrian Orthodox Church at 1.30am local time.

Parish priest Fr Gewargis Elias was lucky to escape with his life when security staff spotted a vehicle carrying suspicious devices and ordered him out of the church of just minutes before the blast.

Reporting the incident, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk (above) told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “Today they attacked the church. Who knows if tomorrow they will attack the clergy or the people?”

The archbishop was speaking after St Ephrem’s became the third church in Kirkuk to be attacked so far this month. Two weeks ago, again early in the morning, car bombs exploded at Holy Family Syrian Catholic Church and the nearby Evangelical church. At least 13 people in homes close to Holy Family Church were injured.

Archbishop Sako said yesterday’s bomb in the city centre was far bigger, leaving a huge hole in the main wall, smashing pews and other church fittings. The archbishop himself was woken by the blast which went off less than 1km from his house where windows were broken.

After visiting St Ephrem’s Church, Archbishop Sako said evidence showed the attack had been carefully planned. No one hasclaimed responsibility for the attack

“I saw many people in the church when I was there,” he said. “They were so very tired and shocked. They were asking: ‘Why our church? What is the reason?’ There is no justification for attacks like this. We Christians have no part to play in politics. We are not causing people any problems.

“This is only happening because we are Christians. Maybe the people responsible want to empty the city of Christians. Please pray for us. Pray for peace and stability. We are afraid.”

Archbishop Sako said that since the last attacks two weeks ago, five Christian families had left the city. He estimates that over the past 30 years thousands of Christians have left Kirkuk.

“This exodus of Christians is going on all the time. It is a big loss for those Christians who want to continue here. How long can they can resist the pressure to leave?”

The archbishop said at a meeting today the local governor promised him that the government would provide guards for churches and funding for repairs.

But Archbishop Sako said such measures offer little reassurance long-term.

“The government will provide guards and repairs but our after that we are not sure if there will be another explosion. Our concerns are not a priority for the government. What can we do? How can we plan for the future?” he asked.

Archbishop Sako went on to describe scaling back celebrations for the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady to ‘modest’ levels.

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